2016 Year in Review – Top 5!

My personal travel for 2016 brought me to many new destinations including the US states of South Carolina, Vermont and New Hampshire; the countries of Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria and Colombia; one questionable territory and a city that has been on my wish list for many years.  At the end of every trip I reflect on my experience to denote the highlights, any challenges and most importantly what I learned.

This was a pretty busy year traveling on 35 flights and staying at 19 different hotels; however nothing compared to road warriors who travel relentlessly for work who are likely to quadruple these numbers.   However keep in mind this is all vacation travel and don’t dare ask the cost unless you want to pay the Visa bill.

 

Best Festival – Romania Annual Spring Ploughman Festival (April 2016): On our visit to Bran Castle we had the good fortune to be there at the time of the Annual Spring Ploughman Festival which is held to promote a good harvest for the crops.   It was a beautiful display of local traditional clothing, music and dancing.  In addition to all of this fanfare the ladies promenade around with enormous basket of pastries welcoming the public to enjoy the good harvest blessing.

April 2016: Ploughman Festival – Bran Castle

 

Best natural site –  Fall Foliage Drive near Conway New Hampshire (October 2016):  For many years I have wanted to travel out east to check out the fall foliage.  However as an avid college football fan historically this had conflicting weekend priorities; until I sold my season tickets.

Timing is everything for fall foliage and that window can be very limited sometimes.  There is only so much planning you can do in advance as it all depends on Mother Nature.  Look at the historical weather reports and peak foliage reports to get a gauge of what weekends it might peak then book your hotel room asap.  There is limited hotel rooms and everyone wants to be there when the fall foliage peaks!  Check out possible driving routes but be flexible to changes based on the latest peak foliage report.   Be sure to take your smartphone and backup charger to plan your revised driving routes.

 
October 2016: New Hampshire

Best site –  Bucovina Romania Painted Monasteries (April 2016): Do you remember when I said UNESCO sites do not disappoint?  This is definitely one!  We sat mystified gazing at the frescos dating back to the early 1500’s and wondering what natural ingredients were used to create the blue hues.   When we visited in April it was off season but rarely had to
share any part of the monastery with anyone else.  This may still be off the tourist radar for many people however given that it is a UNESCO site it could gain in popularity.  I would highly recommend a visit if you have interest in fresco artwork.

 

 

 

 

Best Drink – Colombia coffee at Don Elias Organic Coffee Plantation (November 2016):  Colombia is famous for it’s coffee production and we had enjoyed countless cups of coffee around the country.  Everyone has their own personal taste when it comes to coffee but in Colombia you will never be offered cream for your coffee as it would distract from the taste.  You can have it black or with sugar in general.  We headed to the source to see coffee plantation region near Salento to learn more about the coffee production.  While on descent you can already see the beautiful lush green landscape that you can only imagine.November 2016: Don Elias Coffee Plantation

Don Elias plantation is a family run business that focuses on sustainable production and utilizing your environment to peak performance.  They offer tours of the plantation which are very interesting to see their simple and wholesome process that produces a large volume of coffee.  At Don Elias Coffee Plantation I had the best damn coffee in my life.  I prefer cream and sugar in my coffee; however I was surprisingly in agreement with the locals that when you have a good quality coffee it is better to drink it black.  The good news is that he sells the coffee whole beans or ground packaged onsite and I bought several packages to take home.  The bad news you can only buy it on the farm and I should have bought more!  Or perhaps when you visit you can pick me up a package?

 

 

Best Tour – Hello Bucovina (April 2016)

As an experienced international traveller I generally prefer to avoid organized tours.  However we found Hello Bucovina as the perfect option as it offers private  customi

April 2016: I love Tiraspol, Transnistria!

zed tours!  We had requested a 3 day private tour which covered a big wish list of sights spanning many kilometers and multiple countries.  We had two guides

over the course of the itinerary who were very knowledge about the sights, country, history, etc.  The guides were extremely friendly and kindly greeted us at the airport late in the evening for transport to our hotel.

We had time available while in transit to learn more about local culture and current events.  We spent several days with Chip as our guide who is also the company owner.  Chip is very dedicated to providing his clients with the best experience and asks for feedback throughout the tour.  We appreciated that each day the agenda and rough timelines were clearly established so we knew what to expect.  I am looking forward to traveling to Eastern Europe sometime soon and connect again with Hello Bucovina to arrange another tour.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year and hope 2017 brings you great travel adventures!

Seek your adventure!

 




3 hot travel apps!

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Ladies and Gents I hope you are sitting down and ready to download some awesome apps!  My love for travel has overtaken my timely new blog posts as I have traveled on 17 flights in the last few weeks.  My apologies everyone!

All 3 of these amazing hot apps are FREE!

 

 

Rome2Rio:

This app provides you with a quick price comparison on transport options between any 2 cities you enter.   The transport options included vary based on destination but could include flights, trains, bus, ferry, rideshare, taxi and estimated cost to drive.  While it does not take into consideration the date of travel it will quickly give you a general sense of the time and cost for each option.   It links to accommodations, attractions, and finds google ads with links to recent sales.

Here is an example:  Bangkok Thailand to Siem Reap Cambodia.

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LoungeBuddy

IMG_6095This app gives you a quick overview of your options for lounge access based on your itinerary.  While you may recall that I currently do not have status with any airline.  However  I do have lounge access though several different credit cards and one time passes.  Once you have entered into the app which credit cards, elite status, lounge club memberships you currently have you are ready to roll.

You simply enter your itinerary including the airports, airline, and cabin class.  It will provide you a list of lounge options that have you may have access to and specific details on where they are located in the airport.   It also includes details regarding hours of operation, amenities, reviews and if you are allowed to bring guests along with you.

If you you are interested in a $10 credit, use my referral code VXSJUD85U6 when you visit loungebuddy.com.

 

IMG_6629Postagram

This is an amazing app that lets you create a custom postcard with your personal photos and personalized text.  It will be sent via US Mail and be delivered within 5-7 days.  No more searching for the right postcard or stamps in foreign countries!  In addition the photo pops out of the postcard for a 3 x 3 inch photo to tuck into your purse or post on your fridge.  All this for only 99 cents a postcard!

I still highly recommend 2 of my favorite apps I blogged about last year: check out Worldmate & Triposo

 

Seek your adventure!

Falling in love with local wine one trip at a time

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2011: Mendoza Argentina

So imagine yourself in a beautiful vineyard at a wine tasting enjoying one of the most amazing wines you have had in years.  It sounds like paradise right?  It is!  You then learn from the vineyard owner that they have a very small annual production and the wine is not exported; as a matter of fact the wine is only sold locally right here at the vineyard in Mendoza Argentina.  Oh no!!!

Sadly this scenario has become a common problem for me traveling around the world and discovering some of the very best wines are not exported.  After 10 years  I still crave a wine from Stellenbosch South Africa.

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Wine tasting in Mendoza

 

 

 

How do you bring home these amazing wines?

There are a few options:

  • Ship it from the vineyard directly to your home.  This is an option that most larger vineyards provide however there are additional fees involved and it can get quite pricey quickly.
  • Buy it and then ship it yourself from a local post office.  This is usually a good option but does require some additional effort on your part and ideally you have a rental car to transport the wine.  It make take several weeks for your wine to arrive at your home and I would not recommend doing this with expensive wine.
  • Buy it and pack it in your suitcase.  My favorite choice! I have successfully transported wine from over a dozen countries as far away as Australia and South Africa.

How to pack wine in your checked luggage?

Let me start by saying that I have NEVER had a bottle of wine break in my suitcase.  I have packed up to 10 bottles into a medium roller board suitcase with no issues.  I sadly cannot guarantee your success of course but I have followed these simple steps dozens of times.

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Wine + packing materials

 

  1. Utilize a t-shirt (or any clothing item) to wrap around the bottle of wine; wrapping like a present.
  2. Place the wrapped wine bottle into a plastic carrier bag or ideally large ziplock bag to avoid any clinking.
  3. Put the plastic bag that contains the bottle into a medium packing cube.
  4. Repeat the process for 2 additional bottles of wine that will all fit firmly into one medium packing cube.
  5. In the event that you have less than 3 bottles continue to fill the packing cube with additional clothes until firmly packed.
  6. I recommend putting your shoes on the bottom of the suit case for extra protection; then load the packing cubes on top.
  7. That’s it!   Get home and enjoy some amazing wine!

Reminder: Check the customs policies for your home country.  In many countries you are allowed 3 bottles duty free but if you bring more just declare it on your customs form.  There may be a small tax but well worth the price of amazing wine!

 

Seek your adventure!

5 must have items for every travel day bag!

P1010332All trips are unique and will require something different to be carried in your day bag.  However after 60 plus countries around the world these 5 items are always in my day travel bag regardless of where I am traveling.  In a prevoius post I wrote about “5 must have items for any flight!”  and today let’s consider what you should be carrying with you before you leave your hotel for any adventure.

  1. Water bottle:  I personally drink a lot of water and always have a bottle with me regardless of the situation. I could be traveling around a big city or in the rainforest no exceptions; there I am carrying a water bottle.   You could bring your own water filter  but I always take a flat packable water bottle to refill.
  2. Note pad & pen: This has been extremely helpful in international travel to write down the name and address of the destination we are going to as my pronunciation may not always be perfect.  Just grab the one from your hotel room before you head out for the day.
  3. Headache & Pain Relief Tablets:  There is nothing worse than being on a vacation that you have waited months for and not feeling well!  I always carry 2-6 tablets with me in a teeny tiny plastic bag  in case I get a headache, tummy ache or etc.
  4. Baby wipes:  Not just for babies anymore.  These really should be called “magic wipes”  as they resolve so many travel needs from washing your hands, toilet paper substitute, getting dirt off clothes and cleaning leather shoes.
  5. Collapsible shopping bag: This is critical.  You may have absolutely no intentions of buying anything while you are out for the day.  Yet somehow you end up unexpectedly at a local market or artisans fair.  In many countries you have to purchase a bag to take your purchases home; so bring your own!  I personally have been utilizing the same set of Envirosax bags for daily shopping for over 7 years now and they are still in great condition.

Seek your adventure!

 

Shake your ji-boo-tee?

Shake your what?  Djibouti?  You have heard of it right.  Is it the new dance craze?

A few weeks ago I had never heard of this African nation called Djibouti pronounced “ji-boo-tee”.  However in less than a 24 hour period the country came up in two very different circles of conversation.  It was a sign.  We need to learn more about this country!

Sur les bords du Lac Assal, une caravane et ses nomades viennent chercher du sel.
Lake Assal: Photo property of visitdjibouti.dj

Djibouti is located on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean giving the nation a strategic advantage for Suez canal shipping lanes providing a majority of the nation’s trade.  The region has been inhabited since 8000 BC with a current population of just under 1 million speaking primarily French and Arabic.

What is there to see in Djibouti?

  • Check out Lake Abbe with a lunar atmosphere and covered with flamingos.  Famous for filming location of first Planet of the Apes movie (in review for UNESCO heritage status)
  • Take a hike among the Goda Mountains to check out the waterfalls
  • Swim or more appropriately float in Lake Assal as the salt level is similar to the Dead Sea (in review for UNESCO heritage status)
  • Snorkel with whale sharks in the Bay of Ghoubbet
  • Soak up the Arabian culture with a visit to the sea side town of Tadjourah

 

In May 2015 The Telegraph had an article “Djibouti: Africa’s hottest new travel destination” with tourism on the rise  over 300% in the last 20 years.  However tourism remains in it’s infancy I suspect due to the cost and challenges of local transportation.  I may not put this country high on my wish list however it definitely will be added to the list for a someday wish list.

For more information check out Djibouti Office National du Tourisme and Lonely Planet “Djibouti” guide book

Seek your adventure!

 

Keep your boarding pass!

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United 154: Micronesia Island hopper!

In today’s fast pace world many people are quick to dispose of things especially completed travel documents.  Several years ago I started saving all of my boarding passes as a souvenir of the trip.  On rainy days I will pull from the storage box to replay the trip video in my mind.

While the nostalgic value of a boarding pass can be easily discounted the documentation value for miles needs serious consideration.  In the event that your flight did not get credited to your frequent flier mileage account in many instances the airline will require the boarding pass as proof of travel.  This is extremely important when flying partner airlines given it is not their typical business process and the miles earned may take several days or weeks to post to your account.

I had discovered that my flight to Romania on LOT Polish Airlines had not posted to my Singapore Kris Flyer  mileage account.   Stay with me here as I clarify this; I utilized my Singapore miles account because I would earn more miles based on the fare class that I was flying than if I utilized my United Airlines or Lufthansa Miles & More account.  So my boarding pass included my my Singapore Kris Flyer number yet the miles failed to be posted to my account.   It is usually very easy to request the credit however finding the precious boarding passes in the travel closet was a bit of a chore.  Given this was nearly 10,000 miles missing it was worth a little extra time!

Seek your adventure!

The world is waiting for you!

This week I said a tearful goodbye to one of my dearest childhood friends who was tragically killed in a car accident.  It has been an urgent reminder that life is short and we should live each day to the fullest.

My advice to you this week is simple in the words of Dalia Lama:

“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before”. 

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This world has so much to offer us and we need to take time to explore new places.   This could be a grand adventure to a continent, country, city; or simply a visit to the city zoo, museum or theatre.  Take the opportunity to experience new places especially those in your own backyard.  The world is waiting for you…get out there!

 

Seek your adventure!

Let’s sail away

Let’s sail away
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Getting ready to board the Queen Mary 2

Let’t take this opportunity to talk about the unique travel option of cruising.  There are an endless amount of options available for cruise trips.  I have taken several cruises in my day and I have never been disappointed.   For several years on my annual flip flop trip  I took cruises that left from Florida.   I celebrated a special birthday with several close friends on the Queen Mary 2 which was absolutely divine!

 

 

 

Here are some major advantages to taking a cruise:

  • You are staying in a “floating hotel”  and you unpack your suitcase once yet you get to experience new destinations on a daily basis
  • All of your meals are included with several different dining options on the ship
  • You can truly escape technology as you go “off the grid” with no wifi or mobile phone coverage
  • While you are onboard you do not have to carry any cash or credit cards as everything is charged to your cabin number
  • Nightly live entertainment including music, theatre, lectures which are all complimentary
  • Live art auctions where you can pick up some excellent artwork at discounted prices
  • Spa services  & gym are typically available
  • Take a stroll on the boardwalk
  • Enjoy the lounge chairs and watch the world go by
Wow this is a big ship!
Queen Mary 2: Wow this is a big ship!
Twin balcony room...
Queen Mary 2: Twin balcony cabin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some things to take into consideration before you book:

  • There are usually additional fees added onto the basic cruise price including: port fees, beverages, tips,
  • Take notice of the room size, layout, configuration as the rooms can be quite small
  • For anyone concerned about getting sea sick; investigate the size of the ship, if the ship utilizes stabilizers, typical weather  for time of year will all play into the smoothness of sea

Cruising can provide high end amenities at a low cost travel option if you find the right deal!

Seek your adventure!

 

Free currency exchange

International Bank of 1girlwhotravels
International Bank of 1girlwhotravels

For anyone traveling away from home here is a quick reminder on the basics of currency exchange.    Before you go check out the exchange rate on xe.com website or download their app.

First Place:  The best exchange rate you will get is to utilize your credit card but first confirm the credit card has no foreign transaction fees before you leave home.   The Chase Sapphire Preferred  is a great choice to use while traveling.

Second Place:  The second best option is withdrawing cash from a local ATM once you arrive.  Consider the duration of your visit or take only small amounts of money to avoid having a surplus of foreign currency when it is time to return home.

 

Consolation Prize:  Unless you are desperate never purchase currency at the airport because they give you a crappy rate and usually charge an additional fee.

Don’t even ask me about traveller’s check;  we have moved on from the 1970’s folks.

Seek your adventure!